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HindustanTimes Thu,17 Apr 2014
Both sides now
Ros Atkins
March 22, 2011
First Published: 22:47 IST(22/3/2011)
Last Updated: 19:43 IST(10/9/2011)

Sara is a British Libyan living in Dubai and she emailed me an hour before our TV edition. “Please call me,” she urged, “I want the world to know about my father.” So we did.

Her voice had an urgency and her words a high-tempo. “He’s a 70 and lives in Tripoli, and I think has spoken to the media. This morning he was attacked by eight men who support Gaddafi. They put a gun to his head, dragged him around the house and then made him sit and watch one of our family’s nannies being raped. She’s Indonesian, she has nothing to do with it.” Her story became a plea. “The world has to intervene. People are disappearing, they’re being tortured, they’re being murdered. The world can no longer sit and watch. Words are not enough, Gaddafi doesn’t care about words. This is what I have to say to the world.” And with that she ended her call.

For Ahmed, a Libyan doctor in Manchester, Sara’s words had an awful ring of truth. “My three brothers and father have never carried a weapon in their lives. They disappeared this week and we have no idea where they are. My mother is beside herself.”

I often marvel at the calmness and eloquence of people in situations of unbearable pressure. As we talked, I flinched as I imagined living the day that Sara and Ahmed were halfway through, wrestling with the maddening thought of loved ones suffering out of your reach. “I’m a psychiatrist, I’m just managing to keep things together,” Ahmed explained. It still seemed remarkable.

Earlier in the week, I’d spoken to Ramira. She lives in Manila, but her husband Alberto works in the oil industry in Libya. She’d stayed up late to take our call and hers was better news. Alberto was in Benghazi and looking certain to get out. “Do you resent him working so far from home?” I asked. “Oh no,” she replied, “he can earn much more money there.” “And what about the future, would you want him to go back?” “Of course, we need the money, there is no other way.”

This is the long view that says that Libya can offer good work whichever way history’s path turns. It’s hard to believe that Sara’s father’s nanny would feel the same way.

Jalal followed Ahmed and Sara. He lives in the opposition stronghold of Benghazi in eastern Libya.

Ahmed mocked Colonel Gaddafi’s claim that this people love him and wanted to know if Jalal knew anyone who felt that way. “Gaddafi is delusional,” replied Jalal. “I’m certain even his children don’t like him.” Not that they could see each other, but the two men smiled across the screen.

Zainab broke that united front. She called from Libya, and her anger and frustration matched Sara’s. “You’re not getting a clear picture. I live in an area held by the revolutionaries, and they have hijacked the place, and kidnap those who oppose them.” We don’t want you here, was her unequivocal message.

It’s always said of the Palestinians and the Israelis that there are two parallel narratives. The same applies to Libya, and we continue to hear both.

Ros Atkins is the host of World Have Your Say on BBC World News television and BBC World Service radio. The views expressed by the author are personal


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